There are so many wonderful and convenient destinations across England for weekend escapes from London—just see my article listing countryside attractions only short train rides from the capital. But what about spending the weekend on a British island?
The Isle of Wight is a beautiful 148-square-mile landmass just a 25-minute ferry ride off the southern coast of England. That means you can arrive on those beautiful shores within two hours of leaving London. Many know the island because of the annual Isle of Wight Festival featuring live music, camping, and debaucherous fun. The island is also a popular year-round destination because of its charming beach towns, vibrant green landscape, and sporting events including the Cowes Week Sailing Regatta and Isle of Wight Marathon. What I found most surprising is that the coastline here are also home to killer surfing along the English Channel.
Viewfinder Tip: The warmest month to visit the Isle of Wight is August. But even the chillier months can make for a beautiful escape.
On a recent trip, I traveled to the Isle of Wight where I stayed at the Royal Hotel. Open since 1832, the hotel is best known for their Michelin-recognized restaurant. Watch my video to learn more. But that was not all that impressed me. Each room is uniquely decorated with a homey, cottage feel. The manicured grounds have ample seating areas, lawns, wisteria and cherry blossoms, a peanut-shaped pool, and towering trees. One outdoor garden leads up to a cliff overlooking the southern coast toward France. Those who stay here once, come back, time and again.
Personally, I’m always trying to connect with local life. And I found that many of the locals on the Isle of Wight have a friendliness about them—ready to chat and share—more so than other destinations around Britain. And quite a number of these earnest locals run their own businesses sowing the soil or making delectable products that are unique to the island.
During my visit, the Royal Hotel was holding a gastronomic weekend that allowed me to encounter quite a few of the passionate local growers and business owners whose produce and products are featured in the hotel’s kitchen.
I found myself rather inspired by Joni Rhodes, a devoted grower from The Tomato Stall. Having won a Great Taste Award, her team uses a greenhouse right in the middle of the island’s central valley growing 200 different species of tomatoes throughout the year. The operation is highly technical, designed for optimal taste and texture but completely organic. Sampling a few of their tomatoes, I got schooled on the range of flavors this beautiful fruit delivers from sweet to tangy. And I love that these beautiful tomatoes can also be found in farmer’s markets in London. Check their website for locations.
Meeting Xavier Baker who works with both the Isle of Wight Distillery and Goddards Brewery was a thrill. He has a hand in two of the island’s major independent spirits producers—and his passion is contagious. He presented to us his prized Mermaid Gin from the distillery, made with coriander, Angelica root, hops, lemon zest, berries, licorice root, grains of paradise, and other goodies. Very refreshing and clean, the cocktail he served was made with Fever Tree Tonic Water and a slice of cucumber. Sip after sip you can taste the different layers of flavors, different notes coming to the forefront.
I also visited the brewery where 100,000 casks of their smooth and rich ales are produced year-round and shipped through the country.
The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight is a family-run establishment spanning three generations. Here, garlic species that have originated in destinations around the world, from Kazakhstan to Italy are grown. I got a tour of the grounds with the passionate garlic farmer Colin Boswell who explained that the land atop which they cultivate this stinking rose has heritage as well. While plowing through the soil, farmers here often make archeological findings unearthing man-made objects from the last 6,000 years.
When visiting the farm one can consume this rather addictive root in it’s many forms in the farm’s restaurant or by purchasing any number of their garlic-infused products. There is garlic mayo, garlic beer, garlic mixed nuts, and so much more. I especially enjoyed the chocolate-garlic ice cream made with garlic slow cooked for six weeks!
I also met the very earnest Will Steward, the head farmer over at Living Larder, a mostly organic farm growing over fifty fruits and vegetables on the rich Isle of Wight soil. Here they grow heritage seeds as well as contemporary hybrids. And he tries to deliver all produce on the same day it is picked. You can’t get fresher than that. Will showed us an array of radishes ranging in colors from white to purple. I didn’t even know radishes came in so many varieties.
As you can see, visiting the Isle of Wight is not just about the beautiful island views but also eating local and eating very well.
What foodie adventures have you been up to lately?